"You deit have to prove your­self ev­ery sec­ond of ev­ery day. you are al­ready enough"

Red - - Advice - By Heather Havrilesky

When I was younger, I was a great or­a­tor. I be­gan what be­came a very pop­u­lar speak­ing tour in­de­pen­dently, at the age of 17. What can I say? I had that en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit; I knew what the peo­ple wanted and I served it up to them with en­thu­si­asm. My lec­tures and mono­logues were filled with de­light­ful di­gres­sions and ab­surd asides. Some­times I’d throw in a lit­tle mime or some in­ter­pre­ta­tive dance – my au­di­ences al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated th­ese ran­domly in­jected bits of flair. They would laugh or gawk or roll their eyes, but their envy and de­light was ob­vi­ous.

I knew at a young age that I had to work hard to be loved or ap­pre­ci­ated or even seen. I was a girl, af­ter all, and girls were, gen­er­ally speak­ing, silly and bor­ing. We didn’t lead na­tions for­ward or write the laws. We used our looks and our wits to charm in the boudoir. But I was de­ter­mined to be bet­ter than the other girls. I wanted a con­cert hall filled with men, chuck­ling ap­pre­cia­tively, shak­ing their heads at my stun­ning in­sights into the uni­verse. I knew that I was just at­trac­tive enough to be vis­i­ble, but not at­trac­tive enough to sim­ply ex­ist. All I needed was a few glasses of wine to get started, and then, from my mouth flowed a steady stream of what amounted to mar­ket­ing pro­pa­ganda: blus­tery pro­nounce­ments, smart-ass ob­ser­va­tions, pointed in­sults,

mock­ing, faintly emo­tional state­ments of pur­pose, ide­al­is­tic ram­bling, harsh im­per­son­ations. Some­thing told me I’d bet­ter out­per­form the com­pe­ti­tion or I’d be left in the dust, alone.

And what was worse than be­ing alone? Noth­ing. My fa­ther’s steady stream of girl­friends were a tes­ta­ment to that. ‘Find some great guy when you’re young,’ one of them told me when I was just 19 years old. ‘Don’t wait.’ I didn’t want to screw up and find my­self sin­gle past the age of 30, but that meant be­ing adored not just by one man, but roundly ad­mired by a whole room full of men. Who could trust their su­pe­rior prod­uct to a tar­get de­mo­graphic of one? It was clear I’d need a few backup clients in case my orig­i­nal cus­tomer base fell through.

Even though my giddy speeches and im­prov com­edy shows slowed down as I grew older, my un­paid free­lance speak­ing ca­reer still hinged on one idea: that I wasn’t good enough the way I was. I had to be mak­ing jokes or telling sto­ries. But I also had to be at­trac­tive, like any good spokesmodel, for­ever on my way to beau­ti­ful but never quite reach­ing that end point. I had to be slim and fit. I had to be pro­duc­tive and up­beat. But not only that, I had to an­tic­i­pate how other peo­ple saw me, ad­dress and re­but those per­cep­tions, and re­di­rect their fo­cus to­wards my strengths. I couldn’t just en­ter­tain and de­light and in­form, I had to de­bate. I had to ward off crit­i­cism and ac­tively fight against naysay­ers. I had to sniff out traitors and be­tray­ers and ad­dress them di­rectly, and change their minds.

Not sur­pris­ingly, when I was in a bad mood or a lit­tle bit quiet or not quite up for tap danc­ing on top of every ta­ble, I ex­pe­ri­enced it as a kind of moral fail­ure on my part. I was fu­ri­ous at my­self. I was like a bad mother, telling her frag­ile child, ‘Now no one will ever love you!’ I didn’t know that it was okay to be a vul­ner­a­ble hu­man be­ing with flaws and no pre­pared de­fence.

I didn’t know how to stand still.

The ram­i­fi­ca­tions of this are so plen­ti­ful I don’t know if I can list them all, but let’s start here: I only felt wor­thy when I had a boyfriend and a few backup boyfriends wait­ing in the wings. I un­der­val­ued my friend­ships with women. I had trou­ble fo­cus­ing on my ca­reer, be­cause I never wanted any­thing for my own sat­is­fac­tion. I didn’t know how to feel good about my­self in a vac­uum. I mostly saw my ca­reer as a way to en­sure that men would al­ways be in­ter­ested in me. In some ways, I had faith in my tal­ent. But I also be­lieved that if I gained weight or be­came un­em­ployed or got ugly or had noth­ing to say, I would be worth noth­ing. This wasn’t a con­scious be­lief, but it lurked un­der the sur­face of ev­ery­thing I did. Fear guided my de­ci­sions. But this also meant that I didn’t value hu­man be­ings who had gained weight or be­come un­em­ployed or weren’t ad­e­quately at­trac­tive. I didn’t value my­self be­yond some imag­i­nary per­son I might be­come. I didn’t value con­nec­tion. I just wanted to feel safe.

So this is what I wish I knew when I was 20: I wish I knew I could just ex­ist in­stead of al­ways work­ing so hard, and I would still be good enough. I wish I knew that once I re­tired my fab­u­lous speak­ing tour, not only would ev­ery­thing get eas­ier, but ev­ery­thing would seem brighter, more colour­ful, more alive. When you know how to value your own ex­pe­ri­ence, alone in the world, a path opens up in front of you. Every breath feels like a gift. You can walk out­side and stretch your hands up to the sky and feel grate­ful and thrilled to be here. You can see other peo­ple on the street clearly, and em­pathise with them. You know they’re not more or less than you. Hu­man be­ings mat­ter, pe­riod. When you fi­nally un­der­stand that you don’t have to prove your worth every sec­ond of every day, mostly to au­di­ences who you now see were pretty am­biva­lent about your per­for­mance to be­gin with, your real life be­gins. You don’t have to over­ex­plain or de­bate. And for the first time, you have rights. You don’t have to prove that some­one else is bad in or­der for you to be good. You can pro­tect your­self and treat your­self with care. You can treat oth­ers with care. And you can want things for your­self with­out shame. You don’t have to jus­tify your own heart. You don’t re­quire il­lu­sion or es­cape to sur­vive. You can live in real­ity.

It’s hard to be happy un­til you re­alise, in your heart, that you are enough right now, ex­actly the way you are. It’s hard not to be happy once you do.


‘I didn’t know it was okay to be vul­ner­a­ble’

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